Hold on Tight: Balloon Safety and Environmental Impacts

June is National Give a Bunch of Balloons Month,” which was founded by Wanda Carter Roush in an effort to dedicate the month to celebrating children suffering from incurable diseases and severe health conditions.  While balloons may seem like the perfect gift to celebrate a loved one, or even remember someone gone too soon, they can also create a deadly impact on our wildlife and environment. Safe handling and disposing of balloons is crucial, and we can all play a part, with education being the number-one tool in doing so. 

Understanding The High Risks of Balloons

Billy McCord, retired from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, shared his opinion that “It’s kind of sad that you can be fined for littering if a napkin flies out the window, but you can legally release a helium-filled balloon.” The fact is, balloon releases are actually a mass-littering event. These often latex balloons go up into the sky and become a distant memory for those doing the releasing, but the reality is much different and darker. 

While many balloon companies claim that latex balloons are in fact biodegradable, these are often the most commonly found balloons inside dead animals’ stomachs. When balloons are released, strands of latex or bunches of plastic ribbons come down to greet unassuming wildlife and ocean life, causing a multitude of problems. Sea turtles have flippers entangled, causing them to drown; birds choke on balloon parts or suffocate when latex is swallowed; raccoons have been strangled from trees due to balloon ribbons.  Unfortunately, all these incidents are more common than people realize. 

Additionally, helium-filled balloons released, whether on purpose or by accident, can get tangled in power lines, causing extreme safety issues. BalloonFacts.org states that “the metallic coating on foil balloons conducts electricity and can cause a short circuit or power surge when in contact with power lines. This can lead to power outages, damage to wires, and sparks that could start fires.”

Responsible Balloon Use and Disposal 

While the risks of balloons are evident, it’s not necessarily about stopping use of them completely, but being a smart consumer. You can do so by following The Balloon Council’s motto, “Don’t let go: Inflate. Weight. Enjoy.” For starters, be sure never to intentionally release balloons of any kind into the air.  Keep any helium-filled balloons secured with a string and tied to a weight of some kind to help avoid accidental release. If creating a decorative air-filled balloon arch, make sure to gather up every single one to dispose of them properly when the party comes to a close. While children love balloons, always make sure to monitor kids when handling balloons for their safety, as well as that of the environment.  Once you are done enjoying the balloons, pop them and consider slicing them into pieces before disposing of them in a proper garbage can with a lid. 

Advocacy and Education for the Environment 

Remember that one person really can make a difference. Speak up if you see someone putting the environment and animals at risk through irresponsible balloon activities, such as balloon releases. You can also take part in local and state legislation for laws that ban specific balloon activities. 

If you would like more information or resources on responsible balloon safety and how to educate others, please check out balloonsblow.org {online edition hyperlink: http://www.balloonsblow.org}. “Balloons Blow” is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that “provides information to educate people about the destructive effects released balloons have on animals, people, and the environment, and strives to inspire and promote an eco-conscious lifestyle.” You and your family can also take the pledge to be a responsible balloon advocate at balloonfacts.org/take-the-pledge. {online edition hyperlink: http://www.balloonsblow.org}


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